Moscow has long sought to build alternate gas routes such as Türkiye to supply energy to Western countries and decrease its dependency on European pipeline tracks.

In late September, mysterious explosions damaged Nord Stream 2 pipelines, creating large ripples in the Baltic Sea and severely affecting the operational capacity of the pipelines carrying Russian gas to Germany. For many analysts, the incident marked a turning point in the Moscow-Europe energy ties amidst the gruelling Ukraine conflict. 

Both sides traded blame for targeting the pipeline system in the Baltic Sea that passes close to the territorial waters of Denmark and Sweden. A Danish inquiry has already concluded that the incident was a result of sabotage without naming anyone. 

While Russia has since pointed an accusing finger at the US, the incident highlighted the need for Moscow to find alternative routes and bypass European territorial waters.

"If Türkiye and our possible buyers in other countries are interested, we could consider building another gas pipeline system and creating a gas hub in Türkiye for sales to third countries, especially, of course, the European ones, if they are interested in this, of course," said Russian President Vladimir Putin during a regional meeting in Kazakhstan on October 13. 

Putin’s proposal came during his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has offered to play the role of a mediator between Moscow and Kiev to end the Ukraine conflict. 

Ankara has responded positively to Putin’s proposal on the gas hub. Türkiye has already received substantial gas from Russia through a couple of pipelines called TurkStream and Blue Stream that pass through the Black Sea. 

The timing couldn’t have been better for the idea of a Turkish gas hub to be put into action, says Yasar Sari, an expert at Haydar Aliyev Eurasian Research Center of Ibn Haldun University. 

Türkiye's existing pipeline network provides a good infrastructure for Ankara if it wants to move toward becoming a gas hub, experts say.
Türkiye's existing pipeline network provides a good infrastructure for Ankara if it wants to move toward becoming a gas hub, experts say. (Fatih Uzun / TRTWorld)

On the one hand, Europe is reeling under a gas crisis. Consumers have taken a hit from high prices and politicians worry about securing enough supplies for the coming winter season. On the other hand, Russia needs to find a new route to take its gas to European consumers after the Nord Stream attack. 

“After the Nord Stream becomes dysfunctional, Russia needs to reroute its gas supplies to Europe, and to do that, Türkiye may be the easiest option for Moscow,” says a Turkish energy ministry source, who wants to stay anonymous for official reasons, referring to the Russian proposal.   

Russia favours Turkish route

“More than supporting Türkiye as a gas hub, Russians mainly need alternative routes and new customers after sanctions and explosions,” the source tells TRT World

Türkiye’s dependence on Russian gas has significantly decreased after successfully diversifying its gas resources in the last two decades. 

While Russia supplied more than 60 percent of Türkiye’s gas in the 1990s, its share has dropped to around 40 percent in recent years as Ankara is buying natural gas from multiple sources such as Azerbaijan and Iran. 

“(Through Türkiye), Russia can bypass the northern routes and the increasing dysfunctionality of relations with Northern European countries to reach more directly new markets,” says Gregory Simons, an associate professor at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University. 

In recent years, Türkiye has been able to diversify its gas sources, buying natural gas from multiple countries such as Azerbaijan, Iran and Algeria.
In recent years, Türkiye has been able to diversify its gas sources, buying natural gas from multiple countries such as Azerbaijan, Iran and Algeria. (Fatih Uzun / TRTWorld)

“I do think that the proposal is beneficial to both Türkiye and Russia in both geopolitical and geo-economic terms. But also the sanctions issue becomes less problematic when Türkiye is the intermediary. Türkiye would gain a new source of income and jobs, and also further possible leverage in the relations with the EU,” Simons tells TRT World

Other experts also find the Russian gas proposal to Türkiye a significant development. 

“Türkiye is one of the biggest markets in Europe; it may also have been done to build leverage in other negotiations,” says Emre Erturk, Founder and Managing Director at CEEN Energy Information Services and Consultancy, referring to both Russian and Turkish motivations. 

For officials in Ankara, a bigger role to play in the regional energy market has much more meaning considering the geopolitical challenges they have faced in the Mediterranean.  

Türkiye has long asserted that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus must have equal rights to Greek Cypriots when it comes to exploration of offshore gas reserves in Eastern Mediterranean. 

“The proposal is very attractive for Türkiye. It’s Türkiye’s own ambition to be a natural gas transit hub,” says Matthew Bryza, a former US ambassador to Azerbaijan. 

But the former diplomat, who played a critical role to shape the US Central Asia policy to leverage the region against Russian influence during the Bush administration, has doubts about the Putin proposal. 

“It’s not clear to me that this is the sort of hub Türkiye has thought about. Russia considers this as not really a hub, just Putin uses the word hub. He is just simply talking about greater natural gas transit of Russian gas into and through Türkiye,” Bryza tells TRT World

The former diplomat believes that Russia wants to use the gas hub proposal to create a wedge between Türkiye and NATO. Bryza also believes that “Russia has wanted to push as much as gas it could through Türkiye to Europe to protect its market share” as the Ukraine conflict rages.  

Sari, the Turkish academic, thinks that Moscow aims to use the Turkish route to reach markets in Bulgaria and Italy, where newly-elected governments have appeared to be more open to receiving Russian gas. “By sending gas to these countries through Türkiye, Russia wants to weaken the Western resolve against Moscow,” Sari tells TRT World

How Türkiye could be a hub

While Türkiye wants to be a gas hub, there are a few challenges, which need to be addressed. 

In order to be a gas hub, multiple sources of supply need to be converging from multiple directions and various delivery roads in one location where the hub country is able to trade gas, enabling commercial agreements with different companies from other countries, according to energy experts. 

In other words, Türkiye will be a location where different economic actors will be able to trade in gas freely. As a result, receiving more Russian gas would not be sufficient to make Türkiye a gas hub, says Erturk, a prominent Turkish expert on energy issues.

“Türkiye needs to determine and implement the rules of how to become a gas hub. It is not possible to become a gas hub with the gas of a single source. Türkiye needs to evaluate all resources holistically and it should proceed in that way,” Erturk tells TRT World

Türkiye’s geopolitical location between gas-rich countries —like Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran— and energy-starved Europe provide perfect conditions for Ankara to become a gas hub. 

Also, Türkiye has already had many oil and gas pipelines laying across its territory coming from a number of countries like Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Russia and reaching its Mediterranean ports and European states like Greece, Bulgaria and Italy. This pipeline network provides a good infrastructure for Türkiye if it wants to move toward becoming a gas hub, experts say. 

But to be a gas hub, Türkiye also needs to increase the private sector’s role, allowing both Western and non-Western companies to compete in its gas market, says the Turkish energy ministry source. 

“It needs to organise and make mutual trade opportunities in a structure where multiple suppliers and multiple buyers can access the market,” says Erturk. “For this, the Turkish energy sector must be better integrated with the European energy market,” he adds. 

Source: TRT World